The “cromlechs” of the Golasecca necropolis

The Golasecca necropolis of Monsorino is located in a wooded area of the Ticino Park, consisting mostly of chestnut and dense oak forests. It is accessed via a rough, sometimes wild path that seems to be a testimony to primordial times, to remote eras of human wandering. The forest has the characteristics of a special place, of inestimable importance; like a treasure chest of green foliage, it preserves clear evidence of the transit of peoples and cultures.

Golasecca cromlechs
A part of the path to Golasecca necropolis

Golasecca culture

Between the 9th and 6th centuries B.C., groups of human beings featuring a common cultural facies, known as Golasecca, were settled there. The origins of Golasecca culture are to be found in the developments of pre-existing late Bronze Age populations (Canegrate and Proto-Golasecca cultures), already settled in the Lombard area. This was a gradual cultural evolution, probably marked by contamination with people from beyond the Alps. The Iron Age was, in fact, characterised by the slow and steady migration of different Celtic populations towards Italy. Changing climatic conditions and a general lowering of temperatures, pushed those peoples to seek warmer and more hospitable places.

The cultural characterization of Golasecca developed in this context. The favourable geo-climatic position, moreover near the Ticino river and Lake Maggiore, meant that the populations settled there acted as a bridge between the Italic peninsula and Europe. This is demonstrated by the numerous finds, such as Greek and Etruscan vases, relating to surprisingly distant peoples. It is therefore evidence of a flourishing trade, proven by the richness of the grave goods found not only in Golasecca, but also near Como.

The “chariot tomb” from Ca’ Morta Necropolis in Como. Paolo Giovio Archaeological Museum.

Golasecca Necropolis

Remarkable is the development of complex settlements from the 6th century B.C. onwards, of which little evidence remains. The building materials used by Golasecca people, especially for dwellings, were easily subject to decay, a factor that does not allow us to fully identify their characteristics today. It is assumed, however, that they were built with wooden poles, first set into the ground, then – from the 7th century B.C. – supported by circular, dry-stone foundations. The walls were probably covered with a thick weave of branches and clay; the roofs with layers of straw and bark.

A significant number of proto-urban settlements were probably also located near Golasecca necropolis. This observation derives from a thorough examination of the archaeological remains. These are the variegated stone mounds preserved in the area. They are improperly termed “cromlech” according the European Celtic style of megalithic constructions. The choice of the Gallic denomination is not surprising, since Golasecca culture finally conformed to the one of La Tène following the cultural contamination of the Cisalpine peoples (5th-4th centuries BC).

Golasecca “cromlechs”

What we know about Golasecca culture is due essentially to the discovery of distinctive necropolis, with single or multiple burials, in tumulus form. Five of these can be seen at Golasecca, three of which are circular and two rectangular chamber tombs. These burials are characterised by the presence of typical stone alignments, serving as markers, which are reminiscent of the Celtic megalithic cromlechs.

Golasecca cromlechs
Tumulus Burial Monument, Golasecca “cromlechs” at Monsorino Necropolis

The first to identify the necropolis as a settlement area of a specific Golasecca culture was Pompeo Castelfranco (1) at the end of the 19th century. Since then, the burial mounds were investigated in order to determine the customs and funeral cults associated with this particular archaeological facies.

The rite of incineration

Incineration was prevalent: the body of the deceased was placed on a pyre and burnt with it. The ceremony could take place near the tomb itself or in sacred areas within the necropolis, similar to the Roman ustrina. The bones were then cleaned of ashes and coals; once collected, they were placed inside biconical urns, in the shape of a situla or olla, a ritual phase called bone collection, closed by bowls.

Golasecca cromlechs
Circular Tumulus, Golasecca necropolis
Golasecca cromlechs
Another example of a rectangular tumulus, Golasecca necropolis

The funerary goods of Golasecca necropolis

The grave goods, which characterised the deceased, were partly placed inside the urn. These were small unburnt bronze objects, usually jewellery (rings, pendants, fibulae…). They were often broken or deformed to mark the detachment of the deceased from the world of the living, and to ideally accompany him in the passage to the afterlife.

Golasecca funerary goods from Ca’ Morta necropolis in Como. Paolo Giovio Archaeological Museum.
A vessel with a ‘wolf’s tooth’ motif on the upper rim. Paolo Giovio Archaeological Museum in Como.

Other grave goods (weapons, tools, even chariots) were instead placed, together with the urn, inside the burial chamber made of lithic cists. These personal objects of the deceased served to ensure the continuation in the afterlife of the activities carried out in life, allowing existence to continue beyond death. Among the numerous ceramics found at Golasecca necropolis are vessels, bowls, cups and a characteristic tumbler, a distinctive element of Golasecca burials.

Samuele Corrente Naso

Notes and Bibliography

[1] Pompeo Castelfranco, Paleontologia Lombarda. Escursioni e ricerche durante l’autunno del 1875, in Atti della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali, XVIII, IV, 1876; Due periodi della prima età del ferro nella necropoli di Golasecca, in Bull. Paletn. Ital., II, 1876.

P. Laviosa-Zambotti, Le origini della civiltà di Golasecca, in St. Etr., IX, 1935; id., Civiltà palafitticola lombarda e Civiltà di Golasecca, in Riv. Archeol. dell’Ant. Prov. e Diocesi di Como, XVII, 1939.

error: Eh no!